Where’s Your Passion?

By Jennifer J. Ator

Solo and small firm lawyers are not just lawyers; they are businesspeople, family members, community members, and volunteers. All these jobs take time, but none of these jobs are expendable and none of these jobs—as jobs—are really any fun. By rediscovering the things you are passionate about, and redirecting your energy toward these things, you can inject some life back into the hamster-wheel existence that develops when lawyers are practicing, running a business, being part of a community, and meeting family obligations. You can make life more fun.

Although I like being a lawyer, I have always believed that I missed my calling. I would have loved to have been a librarian or bookstore owner. The love of learning that makes me a good lawyer also sparks my love of information and, specifically, books. I love how books feel, how books look, and how books smell. I walk into a library or bookstore and I think it smells better than a chocolate factory—and that’s sayin’ somthin’. I could spend all day at the library (and loved law school because it allowed me to do so).

Recently, I was appointed to an ABA Section Publications Board. I sought this appointment many times, and upon appointment, I was not disappointed. I realize that it is not usually the content of a book that interests me—but the plan for development, the process of production, the analysis for branding and marketing, and the economics of the whole package. The Publications Board has given me an opportunity to channel my volunteer hours into something for which I have real passion. The work of the Publications Board makes me a better volunteer and it energizes me, which in turn makes me a better lawyer.

I also serve as a local government official. I have always been interested in laws, rules, and regulations. In particular, I revel in the development and amendment of bylaws, local ordinances, and state and federal laws. I am happy to spend two days in the government documents section of the library preparing a full history of legislation I am litigating. I believe that individuals and businesses need to understand the rules, processes, and procedures in order to get anything accomplished. Moreover, it is not fair—in life or in business—to have rules or expectations that are not clearly spelled out.

I initially believed that being a public official would energize and fulfill me. Unfortunately, it does not. Being a public official is extremely frustrating. The rules, which are written and amended by the very body on which I serve and are ultimately approved by the electors of the community, often slow the process to a standstill. Dealing with the politics of people whose ambition is equivalent to or greater than their desire to serve creates friction, grandstanding, anxiety, and headaches where there need not be any.

I can agree to disagree—but a lack of intellectual integrity for purposes of self-promotion is difficult to stomach and makes the job exceptionally hard. I am committed to doing a good job and continuing to be a voice of those who elected me, but being a public official is not the spark plug I thought it would be. In fact, the challenge of serving in public office only takes away from the energy that should be directed into my business.

How do you rediscover your passion? It is going to take some thought. You might start by asking yourself some questions: What did you always want to be when you grew up? What is your current favorite thing to do? What is it that makes you feel really good when you are doing it? By figuring these things out, you can channel your energy into activities that spark your passion.

For example, if you really like fishing, you could join a local organization that plans and implements a big fishing tournament for charity; you could seek to be a citizen representative on a fish and game commission; or you could work with a local group that takes underprivileged children fishing. If you really like baking, you could become involved with “The Great American Bake Sale,” which raises money to feed the hungry. If you always wanted to be an investment advisor, you could volunteer to serve on the investment/finance committee for your local bar association, religious organization, or even private school—you don’t have to be a member or have a child attending in order to be an asset to a board.

Lawyers have a lot to offer. Learning to be a lawyer is simply learning how to learn. It is up to you to use your skills in ways to make your life more enjoyable. I can’t tell you how to do that—and you wouldn’t want me to. Only you know your passion. Think about it and find ways to incorporate that passion into your business, family, and volunteer obligations.

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